Where are the howls of outrage?

UPDATE: This morning (Thursday), I had an email showing that Apple has changed it’s mind. They called Lisle and said, basically “oops, we made a mistake. Your original submission did not in any way violate our terms of service and if you resubmit it, we will make sure it goes up without any problem.” Congrats to Lisle for being brave enough and stubborn enough to take this matter public and kudos to Apple for admitting they screwed the pooch on this one.

The howls of outrage I’m referring to are from the professional writers organizations that are supposed to be representing our best interests. What I’m talking about are the howls of outrage over the latest from Apple’s iBookstore/iTunes. In case you haven’t heard, they made author Holly Lisle jump through hoops in an attempt to put one of her how-to workshops on sale through their store only to tell her after she’d done what they said that they still weren’t going to sell her e-book because — gasp — she mentions Amazon in it. Give me a frigging break.

Here’s basically what happened. Lisle was trying to put lesson 6 of her How to Think Sideways workshop up for sale through Apple. The title of the lesson is “How to discover (or create) your story’s market”. Part of the lesson deals with tools, including Amazon website software, to help place your e-books for better sales. When Lisle first submitted the lesson to Apple, it was rejected because it had active links to Amazon. So she removed the links. (Note, it isn’t unusual for e-book stores such as Apple, Amazon and Smashwords to require you not to have active links to other stores in e-books sold through them.) Then she resubmitted the corrected file and waited. Only to learn that it was still being rejected. Why? For mentioning Amazon.

Yes, you read that right. Apple will not let her publish a chapter or lesson on how to do all you can for better e-book sales because it mentions Amazon. That means, basically, anyone who is writing an e-book on how to publish or where to publish or the tricks of the trade has to leave out all mention of what has, for me at least, been the best selling market for e-books if you want to sell your e-book through Apple. It also means there is the chance of any piece of fiction mentioning buying something from Amazon will be refused. If their review process is done by computer, it also means any piece even mentioning the word Amazon could be flagged. What the hell?

Look, I can understand the requirement for no active links. That makes sense, sort of. But not allowing authors to mention Amazon? Not only no, but hell no. That’s asking authors like Lisle to basically be dishonest with their students/readers by omitting a major section of the course in question. How in the world are you supposed to address publishing or marketing your e-book if you can’t talk about Amazon? What’s next Apple? No more mention of any entity that you are in competition with, be it music, books, programs, etc.? Will we no longer be able to mention Microsoft? How about music stores or producers?

I applaud Lisle’s response to what has happened. She wanted to be in the Apple store so her students and fans would have more choice as to where to buy her work. However, after being made to jump through hoops only to learn her lesson was being rejected for content, she made a decision. She not only pulled the lesson from Apple but she pulled her other titles, fiction and non-fiction, as well. Now the only titles by her on sale through Apple are those that are traditionally published. As Lisle said, “This is not professional behavior from a professional market. . . It is simply an unbelievably stupid business decision, since the people buying the lesson would have to pay for it BEFORE they read the content, and would not abandon Apple because of the content.”

So, I ask you, where are the cries of outrage from the writers organizations that are supposed to look out for our best interests? Where are those oh-so-vocal authors who would have been damning Amazon from the highest mountain had it been Amazon forcing Lisle to remove all mention of Apple from her works? I’ll tell you where they are. They are trying to justify this sort of thing, in their own minds at least, by saying it is only right to strike at Amazon like this. Amazon is evil. Amazon is destroying publishing. Blah, blah, blah.

The only problem with this line of thinking is that this doesn’t hurt Amazon. In fact, it will drive sales to Amazon, sales that could have been made through Apple, especially if Lisle isn’t adding DRM to her e-books. Why? Because the knowledgeable e-book reader knows that it is a simple thing to install the plug-in to Calibre and then convert your DRM-free MOBI file to EPUB or vice versa. No, I’m not going to tell you how to do it. Use a little google-foo and you will find out where to find the plug-in and how to use it.

No, the ones being harmed by this short-sighted attitude are Lisle and her readers. And, ultimately, Apple. Bad on you, Apple. Bad on you.

But, frankly, Apple’s actions don’t surprise me. So many are so sure Amazon is the ultimate enemy of publishing that they don’t see the other problems, more immediate problems, that are facing the industry. Another example of this comes from Ewan Morrison who laments that there will soon be no more professional writers.

I’ll admit, when I started reading the article, my back immediately went up when I read Morrison’s comment about how he has been “making culture professionally for 20 years”. Yes, you guessed right. He is a “literary” writer. He also hates the new digital movement and the fact it has opened the market up to authors who haven’t been able to get past the traditional gatekeepers. He laments the lower prices and, gasp, leaving the choices to readers as to what to buy instead of these gatekeepers. Oh, and let’s not forget the author of the article managed to get in the old piracy argument as well. (Rolls eyes)

“It looks like a lot of fun for the consumer. You get all this stuff for very, very cheap,” he says. But the result will be the destruction of vital institutions that have supported “the highest achievements in culture in the past 60 years.”

Just like so many others, he overlooks the problems within these “vital institutions” — publishers — that brought them to the state they are in today. I’ll beat my head against the wall one more time and remind him, and those who think like him, that mismanagement, failure to adapt to new tech and new customer demand, poor buying choices, out of line advances to so-called best sellers who don’t sell through, etc., all had hands in creating the precarious state publishing finds itself in. Low e-book prices are only one factor.

What’s really behind his discontent? The fact that his advances are lowering. Poor baby. Instead of whining about how things are changing and adversely affecting him, why isn’t he out there looking to see how he can make the most of the new trends?

The article goes on to note that self-publishing isn’t profitable for most authors. I’ll agree. But those authors, for the most part, will drop out. We will see a culling of the field through attrition and through reader demand. But I will also point out that there was a large percentage of authors who were traditionally published and who never received a second contract. This isn’t “feudal economics” but supply and demand. It takes work to produce an e-book and most folks aren’t going to continue doing it if they aren’t getting adequate recompense. Readers won’t continue buying dreck. They are also learning to use the preview function of most e-book retailers and that cuts down on the amount of poorly written or poorly formatted e-books being sold. But then, I’m also betting that readers know a good book from a bad one, usually.

So, sorry if your advances aren’t as high as they used to be. But guess what. Publishing is in trouble and is reacting like many other employers facing financial problems. It is cutting back on salaries and, yes, an advance is an author salary. Get over yourself and, instead of whining about how things are changing and you don’t like it, get off your butt and see what you can do to excel in the new landscape of publishing. Publishing has faced major changes before and has survived. It will survive this time. But, to do so, it will have to give up some of the ways it worked in the past because THOSE WAYS DON’T WORK!. Authors have to do the same.

Get over it. Get over yourself. Adapt and survive.

13 comments

    1. Pete, believe me, I did hold back. If I printed who I really felt, I’d be making sailors blush and the monkey would be lobbing coconuts at me for not watching my mouth 😉

  1. “Making culture professionally for 20 years”?!? Ye gads and little fishes, if the past 20 years are a highpoint of western culture, including literature, then it is past time to let the amateurs back in, for the good of civilization.

  2. You don’t even need a plugin for Calibre to convert DRM Free ebooks. Of course I’m lazy and tend to buy ebooks from stores like Baen and Naked Reader that already give it to me multiformat drm free 🙂

  3. Making culture professionally for 20 years? Hah! The folks in Belmont, WI, (has lots and lots of cheesemaking going on) have been doing it for more than 20 years. So have yogurt makers, beer makers, and pharma folks.
    Ohhhh. That kind of culture? And you’re proud of what you’ve done recently. Nice to know. Hows that recent culture working for you?

  4. I just posted an update to this post. Apple has done a turn-around. They’ve contacted Lisle and admitted they screwed up and they promise to put the lesson up, with links, if she resubmits it.

    1. We shall see if they have truly changed their ways… I don’t trust any of the big companies/bureaucracies since they have to many humans in them making mistakes. At least with a small company you can get a hold of the person making a mistake and reason with them. the large companies/bureaucracies its imposable and they are treating you as a faceless number/form not another human because of it.

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